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Acuna wins it with Braves' longest HR since '15

Lineup tweak sparks top of order as Atlanta snaps skid
@JakeDRill
May 11, 2019

PHOENIX -- Freddie Freeman walked up to the Braves’ lineup sheet posted in the visiting clubhouse at Chase Field on Friday afternoon, and he liked the changes he saw. Atlanta’s bats had been sputtering, so why not mix some things up? Hot-hitting Dansby Swanson was in the No. 2 hole.

PHOENIX -- Freddie Freeman walked up to the Braves’ lineup sheet posted in the visiting clubhouse at Chase Field on Friday afternoon, and he liked the changes he saw. Atlanta’s bats had been sputtering, so why not mix some things up?

Hot-hitting Dansby Swanson was in the No. 2 hole. Josh Donaldson had been lowered to cleanup. And most noticeable was the return of Ronald Acuña Jr. to the spot where he spent most of his 2018 National League Rookie of the Year campaign -- leadoff.

Acuna slugged 19 of his 26 home runs from the top of the order last season. None longer than the heroic homer he belted Friday night.

Box score

The 21-year-old outfielder swatted a 464-foot, tie-breaking home run in the eighth inning to lift the Braves to a 2-1 win over the D-backs at Chase Field. It was the longest homer hit by an Atlanta player since Statcast began tracking in 2015, and with a 112.7 mph exit velocity, Acuna instantly knew it was gone.

“Right away,” Acuna said through an interpreter.

The move back to the top of the order was made to get Acuna’s bat going again. Of his eight home runs, he slugged six in the first 16 games, at which point he was batting .327/.464/.709.

Lately, Acuna is starting to get back on track. After his average fell to .270, he had a four-hit game against the Marlins last Saturday. He ended a 19-game homerless streak in Wednesday’s series finale vs. the Dodgers in Los Angeles and has a hit in three straight games.

Acuna has been working with hitting coach Kevin Seitzer and the Braves’ staff to better adapt to how he’s being pitched and to improve his pitch awareness.

“Obviously, they always have my best interest in mind,” Acuna said. “It’s really helpful to have a different set of eyes, because obviously I can’t see what’s happening during the at-bats and they can, so it’s really helpful to get their perspective on it and make those adjustments.”

Freeman knows how important Acuna is to the Braves’ lineup and how much it could help to have the youngster return to his early-season form.

“Everyone talked to him about taking walks, working counts and stuff like that. Sometimes he can be a little bit too passive and sometimes the last couple weeks, you felt like he wasn’t swinging at hitter’s pitches,” Freeman said. “Maybe this will get him going again because we all know what kind of player he is and what he’s going to be.”

It wasn’t a perfect night for the Braves’ new top-of-the-lineup configuration, as they scored less than five runs for the sixth straight game. However, after going 3-for-20 with runners in scoring position the previous five games, they were 2-for-5 in those situations, including Freeman’s fourth-inning RBI single.

Freeman also doubled while Swanson went 3-for-4 with a triple and a run scored and Donaldson collected a single as all seven of Atlanta’s hits came from the top four batters in the order.

“That’s kind of what I was hoping for,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We’re having trouble scoring runs, that’d be really good if we kind of get this thing rolling a little bit.”

After Mike Soroka’s strong outing Thursday, the Braves got another impressive performance from a starter as Julio Teheran tossed six innings of one-run ball. Relievers Dan Winkler, Sean Newcomb and Luke Jackson combined for three innings of one-hit relief, with Jackson bouncing back from Thursday’s blown save with a perfect ninth.

Teheran didn’t get enough run support to record his first win since April 14. But Acuna’s two-out homer off Arizona reliever Yoan Lopez came to the offense’s aid and snapped the Braves’ four-game losing skid.

“You could tell, he got it,” Snitker said of Acuna. “I don’t want to jinx things, but he’s swinging the bat better.”

Jake Rill is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JakeDRill.